CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- There’s an organization that is geared toward those who have been involved in combat operations called Veterans of Foreign Wars.

In order to be eligible for membership, a military service member needs to have been part of an operation and received a medal or ribbon for it.

“You know, you understand what it means to be a veteran, to sacrifice, to live the way we had to, to miss your family, the community that you came from,” said James Hunter, the quartermaster at the VFW Charlottesville post.

The former Marine also explains there was a gap of about 30 years during which few people were able to join.

“What I’ve learned since I’ve been here over the couple of years is the generational gap between Korea and Vietnam, just being a couple decades, and that eligibility covered a good 70 to 80 percent of veterans during that time,” Hunter said. “Beirut, Grenada, Somalia, all that were all during the 80s or 90s, that only affected maybe 20 percent of veterans, so then only 20 percent are eligible here. Then we go into Afghanistan and Iraq, now 70 percent, 80 percent.”

He was deployed to Kuwait in 2003.

“So I was in the initial invasion in 2003, living out of my vehicle for a good two months,” said Hunter. “My birthday’s April 8, and a little history is Baghdad was taken over April 7 through 9, so I have my 20th birthday in Baghdad taken over.”

During the darkest times of his service, he would dream of coming back home.

“Charlottesville’s where I wanted to come back to, you know. I daydreamed about snowboarding, hitting the beach, you know the river,” Hunter said. “I try not to tear up about it but year, it’s a community that I love and I am happy to be back here helping out with veterans first, which I am in the community I grew up in.”

He had his reasons to sign up.

“You sign up for, I don’t know, the love of your country, you know the patriotism,” said Hunter. “Never expecting what you have to do.”

Tom Sikes is another veteran who joined the VFW after serving in the Navy.

He says he always knew he wanted to serve, taking after his father.

“It educated me,” said Sikes. “I mean, when I joined the military, I was 18 years old, I had just finished high school, very little life experience.”

He believes that Veterans Day isn’t only for the men and women who serve, but also for the families who missed their loved ones while they were deployed.

“My wife likes to say, she was also in the Navy, and she likes to say she served four years of hers and 16 of mine,” said Sikes.

Even after everything he’s been through, Sikes still has a smile on his face.

“Well you have to look at the good side of things, I did survive,” he said.

He even has some cherished memories from his time in service.

“Woe, probably my biggest cherished moment was when my father and my wife put on my officer’s insignia, that was the best time,” recalled Sikes. “The smile on his face, if I could spend five more minutes with him in my life to see that smile again, I would do it, I would give it all up just for that.”

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